By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Renaud Capuon,
violin, Gautier Capuon,
Brahms: Double Concerto; Symphony No. 4
Friday, June 3, 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall
Sunday, June 5, 2011 Alhambra Renaissance Theater
Much like Pittsburgh, Penn., where the Allegheny and Monongahela meet to form
the Ohio River, today’s Los
Angeles Philharmonic concerts marked the confluence of several things. Today
the end of the Phil’s 2010-2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall
the wrapup of the Phil’s five-week “Brahms Unbound”
the third and final concert in the “LA Phil LIVE” series
of telecasts into more than 400 movie theaters around the United States and
the conclusion of Gustavo Dudamel’s second season as the
Phil’s music director.
Each of those “streams” could be the subject of this article
but I was most interested in how a very mainstream classical music program would
translate to a movie-theater screen. The previous program in March — a pairing
of Tchaikovsky’s music and Shakespeare’s texts — had the advantage of novelty
but today was hardcore, 19th century romanticism: Brahms’ Double
Concerto and Symphony No. 4 in E Minor. That the afternoon worked says a lot
about how the Philharmonic approached this groundbreaking concept and, in
particular, how well the idea fits the style of Music Director Gustavo Dudamel.
To compare with this afternoon, I heard Friday morning’s
concert in Disney Hall. In both programs, the Philharmonic played superbly
throughout and Renaud and Gautier Capuon,
were riveting as the soloists in the Double Concerto. Perhaps most impressive
was how eerily similar were the tone the Capuon‘s
got from their instruments; sometimes it was hard to know when one stopped and
the other took over.
However, those in the movie theaters got a dose of
added-value insight into this concerto, one of the last orchestral works that
Brahms composed. In interviews with host John Lithgow, Dudamel explained that, years
ago, someone gave him a cassette tape of Isaac Stern and Yo-Yo Ma playing the
Double Concerto. The youthful Dudamel fell in love with the third movement and
wore the tape out in a month. Then Renaud Capuon
revealed that he now plays the 1737 Guarneri del Ges, the “Panette,” that
Stern owned from 1947 to 1994 (which means Dudamel’s tape was recorded on that
Another fascinating insight came when Dudamel and the
orchestra were rehearsing Brahms Symphony No. 4. In the second movement (marked
“Andante moderato)” Dudamel wasn’t satisfied with how the strings were playing
a key pizzicato section and he tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to articulate what
he wanted. He eventually called it “pizzicato sostenuto,” which sounds somewhat
like an oxymorn. However, violinist Stacey Wetzel and Principal Bassist
Christopher Hanulik both explained how they worked to achieve what Dudamel
asked for. When the passage was played again, Dudamel raised his arms and
exclaimed, “Yes! I want to cry it’s so beautiful.”
like that help to bring to life in a unique way even a familiar work like
Brahms’ fourth and aren’t available to those in the concert hall (although the
ones recorded ahead of time could be posted online). The Phil has announced
that iTunes will release a recording of today’s performance as an audio
download. Too bad it’s not a video download with the above clips included.
I hope the orchestra remembers the winsome quality of these segments when
planning future seasons of “Upbeat Live,” which happen before each concert. The
best of these preconcert programs invariably involve the composer or
performers. The same is true of the “Talkback” segments on “Casual Friday”
concerts that include Dudamel.
are obvious negatives about hearing a concert in a movie theater. The sound
isn’t as wonderful as it is in Disney Hall but (a) it’s not as problematic as
other critics have carped; (b) it’s as good as I’ve heard in some inferior
halls; (c) it’s a lot better than we hear in outdoor, amplified concerts; and
(d) using Disney Hall as your standard is pretty tough since few halls in the
world measure up to the Phil’s home hall.
those in charge of the sound in the telecasts bear a heavy responsibility but
the Phil’s audio engineers seem to be doing pretty well. They tend to
accentuate the strings but considering the sterling quality of the Phil’s
string section that’s not all bad. Moreover, winds and brass come through
clearly enough most of the time.
you like the selection of close-up shots during the performances is mostly a
matter of taste. I find the jumping from player to player to be somewhat
distracting and the close-ups — both of Dudamel and the instrumentalists –
occasionally too close (although I sensed today that, at least in the case of
Dudamel, there was an attempt to use more longer-range shots). However, the
intensity from all performers really comes across to those in the theaters even
more so than it does in the concert hall.
significant negative I’ve noticed during the last two telecasts (I didn’t see
the first one as I was in a choir rehearsal that day) is how difficult it is
for those in the theaters to get a good sense of the inside of Disney Hall. Part
of that is the nature of television; it’s a two-dimensional medium.
Notwithstanding that, there are issues. During the performances, the hall is
dark — it seems much darker than when I’m sitting in the hall — and the
lighting seems quite strange, heavy on red and blue hues. No one can get any
real sense of the hall’s beauty, although it looks radically different — much
more lifelike — during the rehearsal interviews with Dudamel. The auditorium is
so dramatic that I think it would be quite worthwhile to have a series of short
segments about the inside (and the outside) of the hall.
The most important aspect of the telecasts, of course, are
that they’re available and at a price that most people can afford (I paid $18
for a senior ticket at the Alhambra Renaissance theater and parking is free).
For those who can’t get to a Disney Hall concert (or who are discouraged by the
prices), concert telecasts are a viable alternative. Moreover, for those who
don’t have any sort of orchestra available (and that accounts for a large
number of people in the U.S. and Canada), the concerts may be their only chance
to hear — and see — great symphonic music. And, or course, it’s probably the
only way they will to see Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Even for those who live in cities with orchestras, these
telecasts might spur people to try a concert by their local ensemble. Each of
the “LA Phil LIVE” telecasts has included a general pitch for local orchestras;
Lithgow was winsomely passionate about the subject today.
So far the Phil hasn’t released attendance or income figures
about the success of “LA Phil LIVE”. Deborah Borda, the Phil’s president and
CEO, said at the end of today’s telecast that the orchestra plans to move
forward with the project. I, for one, certainly hope so.
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.